I recall a humorous cartoon of Tuxedo Mask reading a newspaper, saying “Call me when the transformations are over”.
People occasionally wonder why “transformation is a free action” and why villains do not attack during the lengthy transformation scenes. As humor the idea is fun. As an actual question (which I fancy it sometimes is), it shows the rather remarkable literalness of many Western minds, which actually, when it is not too cynical, is rather kawaii in its artlessness.
The truth is, of course, that transformation really takes no time at all. Tatoeba: at the beginning of Doki Doki Precure, episode 16, MakoPi changes into Cure Sword in response to Regina’s behavior. The transformation is instant and the henshin set-piece is “skipped”.
Of course, this is how all the transformations take place in “real time” – as viewed by the characters themselves. So are the henshin-scenes merely eye-candy for the viewer? You could look at them that way, but in fact they are a great deal more than that.
I am reminded of a discussion concerning a portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson at his last battle. What has the historic admiral to do with Precures – or even Sailor Senshi? Only the obvious. They are all heroes. And that is crucial.
The discussion in question centered on a piece of literalistic art-criticism that was a shade too vulgar to be kawaii, though it was certainly artless. The critic poured ridicule on the picture of Lord Nelson looking resplendent in full dress uniform, pointing out that he would not have been wearing dress uniform on that occasion, that he was wounded, suffering from dysentery and had not slept and would almost certainly have looked a mess. A realistic picture, says our naïve critic, would have depicted him like that.
Well, that entirely depends what you mean by “realistic”. If you mean simple literalism, then the critic may be correct. However, the true duty of art is to depict something more than the mere material surface of things. The portrait was completely realistic in the way that actually matters. It depicted the hero rather than the accidental circumstances of the moment. It depicted what was real and lasting and fundamental in the scene rather than its surface trivia.
That is precisely what the transformation scene does in Precure and other Magical Girl series. It depicts not the real-time event as it “actually” might happen, but the heroic transformation and the full glory of the heroine. It takes the time to depict what actually takes place in the heart of the heroine because the communication of that truth cannot be instant.
I have called it a truth because that is what it is. The Precure series is about the universal battle between good and evil, and it is subtle enough to be fully aware that this battle is not just an exterior one, but also takes place in the human soul.
As such, it is a series about the very fundamentals of conflict and heroism and it reflects the heroine we can all be if we choose the Light. The glorious transformation that choice unleashes may not take place visually (though I believe that making ourselves pretty is an important part of it!) but it is just as beautiful in each one of us as its artistic depiction shows it to be.
And that, I believe, is why transformation scenes are so popular. They call to something deep and powerful – and also pretty.
After all, Beauty is the signature of Truth!